WASA Caroni Plant Manager Safiyyah Abdullah, right, gives information on the Caroni Plant to Minister in the office of the Prime Minister with Responsibility for Communication Symon De Nobriga, left, Minister of Housing and Development Penelope Beckles, Minister of Public Utilities Marvin Gonzales and Minister in the Ministry of Public Utilities Adrian Leonce during a tour of the Caroni Water Treatment Plant yesterday.

Anna-Lisa Paul

As the true extent of the Water and Sewerage Authority’s (WASA) financial mismanagement continues to be exposed, Government officials are now getting set to embark on a collection exercise in the coming months which will see bad-pay ministries and customers being forced to cough up millions in arrears owed to the utility.

Disclosing this before a tour of the Caroni Water Treatment Plant in Piarco yesterday, Housing Minister Penny Beckles, who is also the chair of the sub-committee appointed by Cabinet to oversee the transformation of WASA, said there was an urgent need to address, “when money is owed to an organisation like WASA that is itself, in serious financial difficulties.”

Addressing the areas issue specifically, Beckles said traditionally, some ministries often take the decision when debts are to be paid that because it is the same government, “agencies such as WASA suffer.”

Among the ministries reportedly owing WASA millions are the Ministry of Education, National Security and the Housing Development Corporation.

Beckles promised they will be meeting with the respective ministries soon.

“We intend to address this matter seriously,” Beckles said.

“We intend to ask all the ministries who have not been paying WASA, that they need to pay WASA because we cannot expect WASA to deliver in the way which we expect if ministries don’t pay, so it will be a priority for us.”

She added, “We are going to be looking very closely at those who have not paid for years, of which there are a number of them, and indicate water is a priority for them. It is not like other things, everybody needs water, especially in schools and communities. That is on the top of the list.”

Meanwhile, Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales said former WASA officials accused of misconduct and financial mismanagement need to be held accountable.

Referring to findings in a 2016 audit report by WASA’s Legal Department which uncovered that the authority had forked out millions in salaries and overtime, some of which should not have been credited to employees, Gonzales said they were not backing down.

“If some persons or managers are liable for breaches of their fiduciary responsibilities, then upon sound legal advice, the appropriate action will be taken,” Gonzales said.

He added, “Great crimes have been committed against the people of this country by people who see the water sector as their avenue to profiteer against the interest of the people of this country and we have to correct those things.”

He said the evidence being uncovered was confirmation that “some people are just eating at the trough,” much to the detriment of the people of T&T.

Gonzales said persistent calls for ministers to be fired were misplaced and for more money to be pumped into WASA was just not feasible.

Meanwhile, asked if WASA had taken action against the contractor who was found to be dumping sand and silt into the Guanapo River on March 2, which led to the Caroni Water Treatment Plant having shut down due to high turbidity and leaving thousands of customers without a water supply for some hours, WASA’s Executive Director Lennox Sealy said the issue was being sorted out.

He said WASA had forwarded a letter containing three conditions to the company and advised the contractor to consider adopting a river, which meant assuming responsibility for ensuring it is clean and free of pollution; conducting repairs to the broken berm which has been done and also paying compensation in an amount still being negotiated.

Gonzales said the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) had also been asked to conduct a full assessment and analysis “to determine if any water pollution rules are being breached and we have also tasked the in-house general council of WASA to examine ways in which WASA can take the appropriate legal action against the contractor that is responsible because that is part of the problem we have in T&T.”

He warned, “We don’t intend to allow this to go unpunished.”